Cool Landscape | Living the Country Life

Cool Landscape

This couple transformed bare land into a shady oasis by planting trees, shrubs, and perennials.


When Kevin and Kathy Gallagher moved into their country home years ago, it was on an open field.

“There was nothing here,” says Kevin. It was important to him to get some trees planted right away, to provide much-needed shade and windbreaks, for one thing, but also to provide places for birds and wildlife to inhabit and to serve as a backdrop for more landscaping he wanted to do.

So he talked Kathy out of money she had been saving for a couch to use to purchase shade trees instead. They started with four locusts and a river birch, which would provide dappled shade because of their small leaves.

“We had no couch, but we had trees,” says Kathy with a laugh.

Kathy eventually got her couch, but Kevin proceeded to plant more trees, including an apple orchard on one side of the yard with Jonathan and MacIntosh as well as red and yellow delicious apples.

“Every other year we get a nice crop from them,” he says.

He also planted an elegant crescent of thornless hawthorne trees, which are not only beautiful when in bloom but also do double duty as an attractive screen, enclosing one side of their yard with a natural garden wall.

Both Kevin and Kathy grew up on farms and are committed to living in the country. They built their home near St. Charles, Illinois.

Wanted more room

Before they moved to the country, they had a home on a typical suburban lot, about 40 feet wide by 120 feet long.

“We had cultivated every inch of it,” says Kevin, “and it was frustrating to not have more room to garden. We wanted vegetables, an orchard – all kinds of things a city lot wouldn’t permit us to do.”

They wanted more room, so moving back to the country was the answer.

“We like to experiment with landscape design arrangements and different kinds of plants,” Kevin says. “Here, we can try things in the landscape. If something doesn’t work out, there’s always another place to put something. We’re not so constricted.”

After Kevin got the trees he wanted, he began laying out the beds in the yard. He loves working with perennials and has developed a keen interest in conifers, as well.

“I like the ability to have a larger space to divide in subspaces or outdoor rooms,” says Kevin. “I can create little hidden and secret areas. Yards are more interesting when you have spaces you can wander through.”

Weather or not

Since he has moved back to the country, Kevin has revived an interest in watching weather patterns.

“I enjoy being able to see the weather come,” he says. “I’m used to knowing what the next six to 12 hours will hold by looking at the sky and feeling a change coming.”

Kathy says she loves the quiet of being in the yard with the insects and birds to keep her company. “I love the solitude. Plus, it’s nice to be outside for a few hours and then to have something to show for it,” she says.

Kathy has taken over the vegetable garden planting, and she put in a bed composed largely of native plants.

Roses do well

With their farming backgrounds, Kevin and Kathy were already well versed in gardening basics. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t always something new to learn. They have begun to appreciate the many great roses that do well in the landscape. “Knock Out,” “William Baffin,” and “Carefree Wonder” are favorites. The couple positioned their shed in the yard so the entrance faces away from the house. That way they have a view of the blooming roses that cover the back of the shed.

Another favorite plant is sweet autumn clematis. “I love the fragrance, the bloom, and the scale,” says Kevin. “The bloom lasts a long time when there are not a lot of other things flowering in the yard.” Having a country lot is like having a wide canvas to play on, says Kevin. “It offers us all kinds of landscaping possibilities.” 

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See more beautiful photos of the Gallagher acreage.

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